And when she suggested something for Baby, and insisted on splitting the cost with him. A part of him that he didn't quite want to accept yet, became warm at the thought of the gift card, that would read From Severus & Hermione.

Christmas it seemed was a tiring affair, even for a bed-bound witch. As the festive season grew closer and closer to it's pinacle, Hermione was becoming paler and more tired and he was worried that she was pushing herself too far. She had continued to grade papers for most of the professors until she had managed to clear all the backlog of work for the holiday season in all of the core subjects. Severus insisted that she was doing too much, but Hermione had argued that she had nothing else to do with her time whilst she was bed-bound. After a look from him that was almost a pout, she had chuckled and said that time with him notwithstanding she needed to have something to do whilst he was brewing or otherwise occupied lest she go insane, so she may as well get through the grading work so that the other faculty members could finally relax and enjoy their Christmas holidays without having to dedicate any of their well deserved time off to grading work. When it looked like he was going to continue arguing, she'd given him a tired smile and told him that she was also classing it as part of the staff's Christmas presents, and he couldn't argue with that. He certainly considered it a prize gift to no longer have to mark tedious papers on top of his already full plate. Instead Hermione gave him progress reports on how each student was coming along, and pointed out anyone she thought may benefit from extra help in lessons, or even praise for noticeable improvements, which after the mass defection by the death eaters, Severus was free to give out such praise without bias, albeit sparingly as was his nature.

Gray, who continued to be called as such by Severus, though was always Baby to Hermione and most others who came in frequent contact with him, was also a constant. He spent a lot of time with the both of them in the Hospital wing and often spent time with Hermione when Severus was not there. Though what surprised no-one other than Severus, was that he seemed to enjoy spending time alone with Severus alone too. Though this had been limited to the welfare checks that Severus as his guardian frequently undertook, short bi-weekly meetings to ensure he was coping well and not in need of any assistance in any aspects of his life. After a discussion in the hospital wing where he lamented his lack of time for brewing a huge unexpected private order he'd received after a breakout of kneazle-flu at the magical menagerie, Hermione had suggested that Gray assist him, the boy was after all a very adept brewer for his age and was now that he was slightly more confident, one of the top in his class. Severus had been about to dismiss her comment outright, believing that despite being his ward, the boy would not wish to spend such lengths of time just the two of them when Hermione had added that if he didn't want the boy brewing, even setting him to decanting, stoppering and labelling vials would be a huge time saver for him, but the ill-hidden look of hope in the boys eyes had quashed his negative retort before he had chance to utter it. Instead with an arched eyebrow he'd imperiously ordered the boy to come and assist him. The boy had leapt to his feet eagerly, and shot beside him with a smile and Severus had to sneer to hide the smile that wanted to break forth at the boy's eagerness to spend such time with him. A quick glance to Hermione's tired smile though, showed that she was not fooled in the slightest by his posturing, and knew that he was just as thrilled as young Gray for them to have this "Male bonding" time as Hermione would later describe it.

Despite Hermione's insistence to the majority of Slytherin house that she did not need them to buy her gifts at Christmas and further insistence that if they truly did wish to do something for her, to make a donation to a charitable cause in her name instead, a steady pile of gifts had accumulated in her private room, most baring notes that insisted a donation of equal value to had also been made to a charity in her name. The amount of galleons received by charitable funds in Hermione's name had reached such a heretofore unseen level that two different charities, one that offered housing to destitute witches and wizards, and one orphanage that raised unwanted squib children, opened new wings in her name.

Severus had surprised himself that he had actually managed to get a gift for her. Well...make a gift for her in addition to the books they were exchanging. In their times together he had quickly discerned two of Hermione's greatest weaknesses. A sweet tooth for honeydukes creamy white chocolate, and a strong fondness for matcha green tea. So he'd set about to do what any decent potioneer would do, using the top shelf range of white chocolate from honeydukes, and the best matcha he could find, he ensconced himself in his laboratory until he'd managed to make the best white chocolate matcha truffles that he possibly could, each one imbued with a very mild elixir of peace to add to their all-round calming and enjoyable experience.

Gray had been let in on the secret and had insisted on helping Severus gift wrap the chocolates for Hermione, a job which he had been loathe to undertake and so he gave willingly to his young ward. It saved him the trip to Scrivenshafts for wrapping paper and he knew Hermione would prefer Gray's creation much more than anything that was store bought anyway.

It was by unspoken agreement that the three of them were spending Christmas day together. Each had planned for such and Hermione jumped out of her skin when a house elf wearing a dyed black tea towel popped into Hermione's room and began taking measurements, quickly asked if anyone had any allergies and then popped out again. Hermione just turned to Severus with a raised eyebrow and pointed at the space where the house elf had been but moments before.

"Is my morphine too high, or was that a house elf?"

Severus simply smirked in responce to her incredulous look.

"His name is Coral. He was born at Hogwarts and has never been bonded to any master than she, though the elf has somewhat imprinted on me for Merlin know's what reason, and has been trying to get me to accept his bond ever since I started on staff, anything I require he insists on being the house elf that provides it".

Hermione chuckled then, after her escapades in the third year, she had spent more time learning about and speaking with the house-elves and knew what a truly determined bunch they were.

"Pardon me for asking, but if he's so set on becoming your elf, then why have you not accepted him?"

He waved a hand in the air nonchalantly as though waving off her question as inconsequential.

"It would've been cruel to do such a thing" He answered, as though that gave her all the explanation that she required, though the continued puzzling look in his direction had him sighing as he embellished on his answer for her.

"House elves do not bond to a person, they bond to the person's house, their family, Yes they may recognise one master above others, but it's usually the head of the house. Elves live longer than people, and many serve whole generations of wizarding families. It would've been cruel to bond him to me, for him to be left alone and without a family when I died."

The look she gave him wasn't pitying, but it was emphatic. "Do you really see yourself dying alone like that? With no... partner? No family?"

"With the war and my position in it, I truly saw my life as forefit. I would've gone to my death willingly if it would have helped our efforts in some way, though now..."

He trailed off with a curious look over to her, and Gray who had fallen asleep beside Hermione as he was often want to do.

"Now?" She questioned, and colour suffused her cheeks even as her wide eyes met his.

He smirked at her, which softened into a smile when he took in her hands softly running through the boy's hair.

"Now though... perhaps I may accept him after all".